Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College for Education and Engaged Learning


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Monica Taylor

Committee Member

Emily J. Klein

Committee Member

Jeremy Price


During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools shuttered quickly and re-opened slowly. These decisions impacted the well-being of teachers and students. Upon re-opening, schools in New Jersey adopted a range of instructional approaches—including virtual and hybrid models—that prioritized safety and diminished human connections. This came at a time when rates of isolation and loneliness were increasing and the US was already experiencing a crisis of connection. To understand teachers’ experiences with human connection during the winter and second spring of the COVID-19 pandemic, this dissertation study recruited nine high school teachers from one school in New Jersey who met a total of nine times from January, 2021 through June, 2021, to discuss their experiences of connection. Through interpretative phenomenological analysis and a theoretical frame of human connection, this study found that teachers’ experiences were best described as dis/connections. Teachers’ pursuits of connection were undertaken to support learning and develop relationships. However, these efforts were not always reciprocated by students, administrators, or parents during the pandemic context, leading to experiences of disconnection. Multiple obstacles yielded a “wall” of disconnection, however, teachers adopted practices and perspectives to overcome this wall. Successful experiences of connection were marked by reciprocity and mutuality, supported by a capacity for vulnerability. Additionally, the group itself became a site for professional connection during a time of isolation. Teachers’ experiences of dis/connection during the pandemic reflected the political realities of teachers’ lives and the ways that mutual vulnerability and authenticity are necessary in schools and classrooms if human connection is expected to thrive. Implications from this study include the emergence of a framework for a pedagogy of human connection that aims to humanize teaching and learning in a context of cultural and social dehumanization.

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